Dear Fellow Texans,

My name is Jimmie Don Aycock and I served in the Texas House of Representatives from 2007 to 2017. I’m known for my work as Chair of the House Public Education Committee, where we did our best to enact sound policy to help the 5+ million students in Texas public schools.

While I am no longer in the Legislature, I am still interested in the education of Texas children. Money is not the only factor in education, but it is important! With this in mind, I have decided to continue to work on school finance issues. I hope to use this site to have a positive impact on the complicated discussions that surround how we fund education in Texas.

This site’s tagline has always been: “Unfiltered Conversation on Public Education in Texas.”

Please read the discussion starter below and feel free to leave relevant comments. The comments will be moderated to prevent spamming and obscenity, but all comments and views will be posted provided they meet the following guidelines: (1) Keep it decent and civil. (2) Keep your comments limited to the subject of school finance, and (3) Links back to your organization are welcome if you support public schools.

There are lots of differing views about school finance.  Those views are usually shaped by the varied perspectives from which we come.  Much of the difficulty in passing meaningful change in school finance is what I refer to as the “Circular Firing Squad.”  Almost every attempt to change anything in school finance sets off a battle between the various points of view.  Even adding dollars sets up a fight about how to distribute the added money.

So how do we achieve movement in a positive manner?  I think it is important to find simple principles that are in broad agreement and focus our efforts there.

 

I would suggest two topics that are fundamental:

  1. Stop shifting education funding onto property tax.
  2. Stop diverting property taxes paid to ISD’s to other state spending.

 

Over about the past 10 years the percentage of education funding paid by the state declined from about 50% to about 38%.  While the total dollars pumped into the system has increased, the state share has not kept up with the rapid enrollment growth – 80 to 85 thousand additional students per year!  Compounding this situation is the increasing cost to adequately educate a more challenging student population.  Simply put, students who don’t speak English and students living in poverty cost more to educate.  The need for preparing all students for “post-secondary” education also costs more if we are serious about that objective.  The Result?  A system that has shifted much of the increased cost to the local property taxpayer while the state bears a dwindling share.

Now  let me shift to my second topic – diversion of school property taxes to other state uses.  Under our present system, as property values go up more dollars are collected by taxing entities.  Some, such as counties, cities, water districts, etc., either benefit from the growing revenue or can reduce their tax rates.  Not so for your local ISD.  Increased local tax revenue simply decreases the share the state pays for education.  In the “Robin Hood” or “Recapture” districts the state actually receives money from the local ISD.  The resulting decrease in the state’s share plus any increase in “Recapture” revenue accrues to the benefit of the state.  While there are certainly education related expenses that use part of the revenue, the net result is that increasing taxes from increasing property values saves the state money – money that can be spent on other than education needs.

There is little wonder that property owners are frustrated.  Not only do increasing values drive up property taxes, those increased taxes generally don’t result in increasing funds for local schools.  Worse, for the communities in “Recapture”, much of the property tax paid not only leaves the local district, a significant amount has been leaving educational purposes altogether.  In the budget preparation before the 85th Legislature there is about  $1.5 billion dollars from school taxes accruing to the state’s benefit. This $1.5 billion is derived from property value growth and is in excess of the amount needed for student growth.  What will be done with that $1.5 billion?  Does it stay in education or does it offset some other state need?  Your tax statement said it was a tax paid for your local ISD – was it really?

Suggested Starting Points

Join together in advocating for a few simple changes that most public school supporters can agree on. I’ve suggested two, and yours are welcome. Let’s avoid the “Circular Firing Squad” and focus on common objectives.

Get to know who represents you in the Texas House and Senate and communicate your position to them. Remember to be courteous, brief and to the point. Remember that the staffers often influence their boss.

Many of us are members of various groups that support public schools. We need to “cross pollinate” these groups. Feel free to post your link here. Do the same with other sites who share common goals.

12 Comments

  1. First of all, Chairman Aycock, yours is a voice of reason. I am thrilled that you are back in the game and believe yours is not only a noble effort but one around which we can rally. Thank you.

    Now I have to go gather my thoughts a bit more succinctly than I have to this point. I am thrilled that you are seeking input and offering guidance on the need for a broad base coalition of advocates. We must (and will) get past self interests and look at how our efforts can best impact students.

    With appreciation,
    Craig Rothmeier
    President – Make Education a Priority

  2. Great website … I know when Tom Pauken was running for governor he mentioned increasing the sales tax by a quarter of a percent or something like that to offset the effects of Robin Hood or to try to eliminate it .. What are y’all’s feelings in regard to that .. Also any money raised from school districts sent to the state should be used for education …. Danny Harrison

  3. Thank you for opening up this forum. Agree with you completely.
    When do you see school finance actually being addressed?
    Can you add Facebook and Twitter to the links to aid in the cross population effort?
    We are going to need everybody who supports public ed.
    Thanks!

  4. Make Education a Priority is privileged to be part of the discussion. In keeping with the advice of the Chairman, we strive to work with other advocacy groups to define a concise and focused education plan, one that we can all embrace. Let’s continue the dialog among us. In line with his suggestion, while in Austin last week, I delivered letters to all Senate Ed committee members asking that property taxes intended for education not be used for other than education. The LG talked about how legislation was passed in the 84th Requiring this for transportation; let’s adopt the same approach for education.

    Craig Rothmeier
    President – Make Education a Priority
    Craig@schoolpriority.com

  5. Chairman Aycock, thank you for your continued leadership and service to public education in Texas.

    School funding in Texas is inadequate. The per student funding in Texas is approximately $2,700 less than the national average. Texas public school funding is ranked somewhere between #38 and #45 of all 50 states. However, in today’s State of the State Address, Governor Abbott called for property tax reforms and cuts to the business franchise tax. We already have a shortage of available revenue because of the billions of dollars of tax cuts the legislature approved in 2006 and in 2015. If we don’t have enough money to adequately fund public schools, we shouldn’t be considering more tax cuts. Texas is already one of the lowest taxed states based on per capita and per household taxes. If the Legislature is not willing to increase taxes during tough times, then they shouldn’t reduce taxes during good times. Otherwise, we are setting the state up for another year like 2011 when Texas a $27 billion budget shortfall:
    http://www.theyeagergroup.com/Downloadable%20Documents/Strayhorn%20Letter%20to%20Perry.pdf
    https://www.texastribune.org/2011/04/18/a-texas-sized-budget-problem-deferred–to-now/
    http://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2011-03-04/show-your-work/

    School funding in Texas is also very inequitable. Some school districts receive thousands of dollars more per student in funding than other districts. For example, my district receives $5,761 in funding per Weighted Average Daily Attendance (WADA). The average of all school districts in Texas is $6,264 in funding per WADA. If my district was funded at the state average, we would receive an additional $1,067,494 per year. About half of the school districts in Texas are funded above the state average. One example of this is a district next to mine that receives $6,720 in funding per WADA. If we were funded at the same level as that district, we would receive an additional $2,035,241 per year. Thus, if one of our students in Salado moves to the district next to mine, that student is immediately worth over $1,100 more in funding per year. While funding per student should vary based on the programs the student qualifies for (i.e., special education, ESL, compensatory education, etc.), it should not vary based on which district the student attends because of an inequitable funding system.

    I strongly support the Equity Center’s plan for school funding:
    http://equitycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/09.28.16-EC-School-Finance-Plan.pdf

    Chairman Aycock, thank you for providing this forum for us to discuss this important topic.

    Michael Novotny
    Superintendent
    Salado ISD

  6. Glad to see you have this site for discussion on education. I believe you that the way to fund is complicated. Given that the inflation has decrease the value of the dollar such that from 91 when the gas tax was $.20 that is now $.35 to achieve the same value just from inflation. Add in additional car economy and we have had a net halving of the gas tax revenue. Not only is the money going to education less but the amount going to the roads less too. Would you consider this a good way to increase revenue more fairly / evenly amongst residents (and even non residents transiting the state) in lieu of more local property taxes that are getting misused.

    In addition, why divert money back to lower franchise tax last session when that benefits business only and doesn’t really help the average property owner (I am a business owner effected by the margin tax so while I appreciate it I can see that it also wasn’t a good way to get money back). Any thoughts on how to reduce ISD property taxes?

  7. Senate Bill 3 has been filed that would establish education savings accounts (i.e., vouchers). These vouchers would allow families to take their student out of a public school and put them in a private school or homeschool and use taxpayer dollars to help pay for the private school or homeschool. If they do not meet low income criteria, they would receive 60% of the WADA funding for that student. If they do meet low income criteria, they would receive 75% of the WADA funding for that student. If their student has a disability, they would receive 90% of the WADA funding for that student. The remaining 10%, 25%, or 40% of the funding would be shared between the state and the school district that the student would have attended if they didn’t go to private school or homeschool.

    Here are my five concerns regarding this bill:

    1. Private schools and homeschools will receive taxpayer dollars, but will not have any of the accountability that public schools have (i.e., STAAR, EOC, TAPR, A through F ratings, FIRST, FAST/TX Smart Schools, PBMAS, annual audits, etc., etc., etc.).

    2. While public schools are required to accept every student that resides within our attendance zones, private schools will still get to pick and choose which students they will accept. Thus, many of the students that are “trying to get out of failing public schools” will not be accepted by a private school because of their academic level, attendance, and/or behavior/discipline.

    3. The tuition for many private schools is higher than the 60%, 75%, or 90% of per WADA funding for a student and many families will not be able to afford the difference. Thus, many of the students that are “trying to get out of failing public schools” will not be able to afford to go to a private school, even with the voucher.

    4. The bill defines a student with a disability (to receive the 90% voucher) as a student who is eligible to receive special education services or covered by Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. The criteria for Section 504 is very broad: any mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (such as learning). Thus, I predict a very large percentage of students seeking a voucher will request Section 504 eligibility to boost their potential voucher from 60% or 75% to 90%. This could put a strain on the public school districts having to respond to the increased numbers of students requesting Section 504 evaluations and plans. It could also end up costing the state more because of the higher number of 90% vouchers.

    5. Some people are claiming this will actually save the school districts and the state money because of the 10%, 25%, or 40% of per student WADA funding that is saved. However, it may actually cost more in the short-term and it will definitely cost more in the long-term. That is because the school districts and the state will only “save money” on students that actually withdraw from a public school and switch to a private school or homeschool.

    The proposed bill says that a child is eligible if the child:
    (1) was born on or after September 1, 2012; or
    (2) attended a public school during the entire preceding academic year
    http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/tlodocs/85R/billtext/pdf/SB00003I.pdf#navpanes=0

    Thus, the state could save money on students in category 2 since the voucher would be 10%, 25% or 40% less than the WADA funding that would have been spent if the student had stayed enrolled in a public school. However, the students in category 2 will cost the state more because many of those family were already going to send their student to private school or homeschool their student and pay for it themselves but instead they would now receive taxpayer dollars to help pay for it. Depending on the number of students in category 1 and category 2, this may or may not cost the state more in the short-term, however, it would inevitably cost the state more in the long-term as more of the students receiving vouchers will be in category 1. In July, outgoing State Board of Education Vice Chair Thomas Ratliff said this kind of policy is really an entitlement program that could cost the state upwards of $3 billion per year. “This idea takes the word entitlement to a whole new level for Texas,” Ratliff said. “It is nothing more than a huge transfer of wealth with no way to control the price tag.”
    https://communityimpact.com/austin/at-the-capitol/2017/01/30/texas-school-choice-bill-filed-by-senate-leadership/

    The bill would further reduce state revenue by providing businesses tax credits for donating towards scholarships that could be used for private school tuition.

    I believe that the legislature should provide adequate and equitable public school funding before it considers school vouchers and/or tax credits that would reduce the state available revenue (tax credits) and increase state expenditures (vouchers).

    Michael Novotny
    Superintendent
    Salado ISD

  8. The following information was provided by the Texas Association of School Boards:

    School trustees and administrators, teachers, parents and taxpayers are sharing information from the taxparencytexas.org website and the video that accompanies it. The site highlights the fact that Texas legislators have reduced the state contribution to education spending as rising property values have translated to more local tax revenue for the state budget. One statistic listed on the site shows the state has reduced its funding by $339 per student based upon enrollment growth since 2008, but that number jumps to $795 per student when adjusted for inflation.

    “While the combined amount spent for public education in 2017 from local, state and federal sources appears to be the highest amount ever spent at $51 billion, it is actually 5 percent less than 2008 when inflation and the increase in the number of students is factored in,” according to the site. “During that same time period (2008 to 2017), the state’s share of funding public education has decreased from 44.9 percent to 38.4 percent, while the local share (primarily property taxes) has grown from 44.8 percent to 51.5 percent.”

    Michael Novotny
    Superintendent
    Salado ISD

  9. Have you ever noticed that plants can push up through cracks in concrete? We chop them down, pour poison on them, and back they come. This must be the way it feels to those living in dire poverty. Do some of our poor scam the system? Yes, a few do. Most, like the plants, simply seek a path to a better life.

    Known Oppositions to Vouchers
    You have heard all the arguments against vouchers.
    1. Vouchers increase segregation based on race, economics, language, and ethnicity.
    2. Research does not indicate that vouchers improve academic performance.
    3. Research also demonstrates that those living in poverty will not be helped by vouchers.
    4. Vouchers do not totally cover tuition of most private or parochial schools. Although a few middle-income families will be able to make up the variance, the very poor will not be able to do so.
    5. The wealthy, those who do not need help, will receive our tax dollars.
    6. Vouchers help private schools avoid state standards and accountability.

    Ultimate Opposition
    Vouchers, by any name, strip tax dollars from public education. We might want to wonder what might happen if the state actually funded public education appropriately. We know that approximately 90% of the poorest children will remain in public schools. I fear for these children, who unfortunately just happen to almost always have darker skin. With added loses due to vouchers, local schools have fewer resources needed to meet the increasing demands of education. This means:

    1. Inadequate salaries discourage the brightest and best university students from going into education.
    2. Although advances in technology can diminish inequality between rich and poor, loss of additional funds results in less technology in low-income schools.
    3. Buildings, already in disrepair become health and safety hazards.

    I have witnessed conditions in lower-income neighborhoods that would never be acceptable in middle or upper economic neighborhoods. Schools that do not meet standards on one side of town should never be acceptable to any of us. My greatest fear is that more than 50% of our citizens will be short changed educationally. If this trend continues, every single one of us loses. United, as in the United States of America, we stand; divided, we all fail.

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